Sleep apnea boosting unnecessary tests, healthcare costs

The amount of spending on sleep apnea testing and prevention has skyrocketed, creating potential cost-drivers for other facets of healthcare delivery, reported Kaiser Health News and NPR.

Many hospitals have constructed costly "sleep labs" to test patients during an overnight stay for the condition. Insurers often pay up to $2,000 for such testing. According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General, Medicare payments for sleep testing nearly quadrupled between 2001 and 2009, to $235 million from $62 million.

Clinicians say sleep apnea is often linked to other conditions such as strokes, but some industry observers claim over-testing is occurring for financial reasons.

"We are spending more and more money on sleep testing and treatment, and like anything else in health care, there are unscrupulous people out there who are more than happy to do testing and treatment that might be of questionable value," Fred Holt, a medical director for Blue Cross Blue Shield in North Carolina and an expert on healthcare fraud, said in the article. "This might be because of naiveté on the part of the physician, or unfortunately, it could be done for the sake of improving the cash flow of one's business."

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- here's the OIG report (.pdf)

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